The joint owners of the Cerrejón opencast mine will be accused at its annual meeting of jeopardising the health of 13,000 people
Communities from Colombia, Mongolia, South Africa and the US will demonstrate in London this week against some of the world’s largest mining companies, which they say are devastating the health of people, widely polluting the environment and forcing communities to move.
Anglo American, joint owners of the giant Cerrejón opencast coal mine in northern Colombia with BHP Billiton and Xstrata, will be accused at its annual meeting on Friday of jeopardising the health of the 13,000 people who live or work close to the operation that provides coal for power stations in Britain and Europe.
“We have had to suffer the impacts of opencast coal mining for over 25 years now. Our communities have been gradually and systematically asphyxiated by the contamination caused by coal mining, our societies [have been] fractured,” said Julio Gomez, president of Fecodemigua, the Federation of Communities Displaced by Mining in La Guajira, in London.
Around 500m of the total estimated 5bn tonnes of coal have been mined from Cerrejón since it opened in 1985, but the largest mine in Latin America plans to increase production by 25% in the next three years.
Cerrejón started providing British power stations with coal after the demise of the UK mining industry in the 1980s. Last year, Britain increased imports of Colombian coal, some of it from Cerrejón, by 48%, to more than 8m tonnes.
But the mine has been has been racked with labour disputes and complaints of bad management and pollution, and for failing to provide adequate compensation to communities who have had to make way for its operations. This year it was closed by a strike for 32 days.
“The health of everyone in La Guajira within 5km of the area of mining and transport of coal is being severely affected: studies [show] the constant exposure to coal dust is clearly linked to the increase in illnesses,” said Gomez.
Gomez also accused Anglo American of failing to compensate communities whose homes were destroyed by the expansion of the mine have not been compensated.
According to the Cerrejón miners, over 12,000 hectares of dry tropical forest have been destroyed, five villages displaced and rivers moved to exploit the coal.
Most of the affected communities are made up of Wayuu people who have lived in the area since well before the Spanish conquest, or people of African descent, who fled slavery on the Colombian coast and set up free communities in land vacated by indigenous people.
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